Behind the barrier
Israelis say a new partitioning of the West Bank is critical to security. Palestinians say they'll be prisoners on their own land.
QALQILYA, WEST BANK
Yusif Josef Ramsi is still farming, if you can call it that. The West Bank farmer, never a major landowner, once tended his seven-acre plot of fig and olive trees with pride.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, what's left of his patrimony sits in a few dozen black plastic buckets.
"The rest is all over there," says Mr. Ramsi, pointing a gnarled hand beyond the sleek gray expanse of Israel's security barrier, just a few feet away.
At 26 feet high, the barrier around Qalqilya is the most striking example of Israel's attempt to physically separate itself from the Palestinians.
Israelis say the structure will end the militant attacks that have scarred their cities and left so many families in grief.
But the barrier's detours into the West Bank have claimed hundreds of acres of fertile Palestinian land, Ramsi's included, leading Palestinians to question whether security is Israel's only consideration. "We'll have a Palestinian state you can fit in a Coca-Cola bottle," Ramsi jokes bitterly.
Concerns about the barrier's route have brought it center stage. President Bush has raised it with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The State Department is proposing sanctions against Israel for construction in Palestinian areas. While Israeli officials stress the barrier's security function, Israelis outside government say it is also driven by a desire to define the borders of a Palestinian state. As such, it could derail the shaky Israeli-Palestinian peace plan now under discussion.
"[The barrier] will profoundly change the geographical and political landscape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," RAND Corporation analyst Bruce Hoffman wrote recently.
The barrier is also the latest manifestation of a tragic trend in this conflict, in which the long-term security that Israelis desire and the state that Palestinians envision are in danger of becoming mutually exclusive possibilities.
Some 80 percent of Israelis, tired and worn after what the army estimates are 817 deaths at the hands of Palestinian militants, want the barrier. They say physical separation is the only way to free Israelis from the fear of suicide bombers. While left-wing groups campaign against the barrier, they are in a minority. Most Israelis, after three years of conflict, want nothing to do with Palestinians.
But when Israelis lay out their safety concerns, Palestinians, pointing to the barrier's path through fields, around cities, and between neighbors, see only a blueprint for their suffering.
In the short term, the barrier blocks Palestinians from their land; their livelihoods, and their access to resources like water, schools, and health care. In the long term, it will stifle economic growth and, under an Ottoman-era law still in effect, could lead to the permanent loss of land. Many Palestinians believe this is the true aim of Israel's West Bank policy.
Israelis, who remember Palestinians' widespread public support for suicide bombers, say their adversaries are simply reaping the fruits of their hatred.
"We are not punishing the Palestinians. They are punished by their leadership ... that incites them," says Judith Shahor, head of staff at the group Victims of Arab Terror, whose 19-year-old son was murdered by Palestinians in 1995.
In Qalqilya, a town of 42,000 completely encircled by the barrier, Mayor Ma'aruf Zahran says both sides will pay a price for these policies.
"We have no income, no services, no water, no land [because of the barrier]. People think about moving out, we call it 'voluntary transfer,' " he says. "Young people are looking for ways of revenge. The Israelis are planting seeds of hatred and terror."
The concept of a barrier emerged in November 2000, just two months after the intifada began. Then Prime Minister Ehud Barak wanted to block Palestinian cars from crossing the Green Line, which divides Israel proper and the West Bank.